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Students Help Tell Native American Stories

Students produced videos to be screened this week at the American Indian Center
  • Medill undergraduates conducted interviews in special topics course
  • Course comes as University seeks to raise awareness on Native American issues
  • Launches series of lectures relating to Native Americans and Indigenous People

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A series of video interviews titled “Native Americans Tell Their Stories,” produced by Northwestern University students will be screened from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 19 at the American Indian Center of Chicago, 1630 W. Wilson Ave.

The video and audio interviews were conducted as part of a special undergraduate topics course offered for the first time in the winter quarter at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

The interviews sought to capture the lives of American Indians who reside in the Chicago area. They feature 12 urban Native Americans ranging from a young adult to subjects as old as 90. Some moved to Chicago during the relocation of the 1950s to 1970s, when the federal government encouraged as many as 100,000 Native Americans to abandon their reservations. 

“As the non-Native initiator of the project, I felt it especially important to have American Indians speak to the students throughout the 10-week, oral history course,” said Medill Professor Loren Ghiglione. With travel funds provided by the Office of the Provost and Medill, Ghiglione arranged for a dozen Native American journalists and authors from as far away as Alaska to speak to the students.   

The presentation Thursday in Chicago stems from a larger Northwestern effort to raise awareness and enhance inclusion of Native Americans in many aspects of the University community. 

The John Evans Study Committee Report, completed in May 2014, and the Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force Report, released in November 2014, provided valuable research, analysis, insight and recommendations to the president and provost.   

The Office of the Provost is leading the initiative on Native American inclusion and reviewing and responding to recommendations of the Task Force, as well as stimulating additional ideas and directions through conversations across the University.  

About two dozen Northwestern students, staff and faculty came to hear Mark N. Trahant, a celebrated Native American journalist and one of Ghiglione’s guest speakers, discuss the power of social media in the lives of Native Americans on March 6.  

As Trahant sees it, social media are a hyper-connected, digital version of the Native American oral tradition of storytelling. Just as news might spread quickly from one home to the next in a close-knit Native American community, so too do certain stories on social media.

Historically underrepresented or misrepresented in the media, Native Americans with a story to tell can use social media to reach fellow community members as well as the broader society, thereby raising awareness and educating the public. 

Trahant urges Native Americans and indigenous people to use social media to organize and call attention to issues. He cited a Facebook phenomenon he frequently refers to as a Native American version of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

“It’s time to tap the awesome power that is social media,” said Trahant, a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock tribe. “If we can use Facebook to convince people to dump ice water on their heads or jump in a creek, we ought to use it to get them to vote. Take the ice bucket into the voting booth and really change the country.” 

Trahant serves as the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an author, a Twitter poet under the handle @newsrimes4lines and an independent journalist. 

He is chairman of the board of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and a past president of the Native American Journalist Association. Trahant was also a finalist for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting as co-author of a series on federal Indian policy.   

Trahant’s talk was co-organized by the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and the Office of International Program Development. 

It is the first in what Northwestern University officials said would be a series of lectures relating to Native Americans and indigenous people. The lecture series is funded by the offices of the Provost and the President and coordinated by the Office of International Program Development.

The Office of International Program Development, which administers the Global Health Studies minor, is interested in raising awareness of Native American public health issues through lectures and new course offerings. 

“Because of our interest in global health, we became interested in developing a course on Native American health and wanted to bring speakers to campus on that topic,” said Dévora Grynspan, assistant to the president for Global Initiatives and director of International Program Development.

“In addition to hosting Northwestern alumna and pediatrician Bethany Weinert for a lecture in January, we also hired Margaret Pollak, a recent Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, to teach a course on Native American health during spring quarter,” she added.

Following the spring quarter, Pollak will be joining the University for a two-year appointment beginning in September 2015.

“Understanding public health in any community requires an interdisciplinary approach that examines history, economics, culture, politics and more,” Grynspan noted. “Therefore, we are coordinating with other units on campus to develop a lecture series about Native Americans, with funding from the president and the provost.”